The Country Teacher

Film
2 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

RIVER OF DREAMS Student and teacher row, row, row their boat.

If great movies resulted purely from wizardly technical displays, then Czech writer-director Bohdan Slma’s The Country Teacher would be a masterpiece to give Bla Tarr pause. Save for an occasional insert, Slma and cinematographer Divis Marek shoot each of the film’s sequences in elaborately choreographed single takes. It’s an attention-grabbing technique that initially enhances the air of mystery surrounding the title character (Liska), who rejects a tony appointment in Prague to teach science at a rural elementary school.

For a good while, Slma withholds any concrete information about the teacher’s past, and this is when the film is strongest. The Country Teacher is practically elemental in its juxtaposition of a transcendent natural world with the protagonist’s level-headed pedagogy. After the teacher mused at length about the minute details of a snail shell, I was more than prepared for a two-hour Platonic dialogue in motion. But the strikingly introspective mood dissipates when Slma offers a reason for his character’s visible anxiety—he’s a repressed homosexual on the metaphorical run. Contrived melodrama and facile symbolism take over from there, though Slma’s visual invention remains all the way up to the bizarre away-in-a-manger finale where the birth of a cow acts as an unlikely conduit to healing and forgiveness.—Keith Uhlich

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